Back in your school days you learned to use the alphabet as the building blocks for words, but do you know the building blocks of healthy aging? Your education isn’t complete until you’ve reviewed the ABCs of aging well—in both mind and body!
- A: Fight anemia
While not caused by aging per se, anemia is a common condition in older adults and is often the result of more than one issue, such as poor diet, medications or hormone imbalances. If you’re experiencing symptoms of anemia—fatigue, feeling cold, paleness, weakness—talk to your clinician.
- B: Break routine
Make small changes in your daily routine to increase brain stimulation. Something as simple as taking a different route on a daily walk or trying something new for breakfast can be enough spark to keep your mind fresh instead of foggy.
- C: Cultivate your relationships
Staying connected with people is an important aspect of mental health. Maintain communication with your family and friends, especially after a significant loss or life change.
- D: Dine with others
Plan meals with friends and family several times a week. Studies show that those who share meals with others eat less than those who eat alone, decreasing your risk of overeating, and keeping your weight in check.
- E: Eat healthy foods
Did you know that a high percentage of adults in the U.S. consume more than double the recommended intake of sodium? Too much sodium can lead to hypertension and cardiovascular disease, so skip the extra salt and focus on nutrient-dense food like fruits, vegetables and whole-grains.
- F: Fight fatigue
If you’re feeling tired during the day more often, having a glass of water and a high-antioxidant food, like prunes or blueberries, can revitalize the body and stimulate the mind.
- G: Get enough sleep
You may be older and wiser, but older adults need just as much sleep as younger adults—up to nine hours per night! Lack of sleep can lead to irritability, depression and memory problems.
- H: Have a heart-to-heart talk with your clinician
Heart disease is the number one cause of death in Americans. Talk to your clinician about making heart-smart choices for you individual health issues to lower your risks for a heart attack.
- I: Increase your calcium intake
The risk for osteoporosis increases as you get older, so make sure you get enough calcium each day. Most health experts recommend around 1,200 mg, or roughly three cups of milk.
- J: Joint protection
As you age, your weight-bearing joints (hips, knees and ankles) are the first to show signs of wear and tear. Get ahead of the pain game by participating in aerobic activity, light walking or yoga twice a week to prevent early stages of arthritis.
- K: Keep an eye on fat
A healthy diet affects your health on multiple levels. Decrease your calorie intake by limiting saturated fats; start choosing lower-fat options of milk and cheese, and substitute red meats for fish, lean poultry and vegetables.
- L: Limit stress
Have you laughed or broke a sweat today? Humor and exercise are great ways to reduce stress and relieve tension. Your mental health will thank you!
- M: Maintain your brain
Some cognitive decline is a normal part of aging, but never stop learning and challenging your mind. Exercise your mind with cognitive activities such as memory games, puzzles and reading.
- N: Nutrition
Have you noticed that your tastes in food have changed over the years, or that you’re eating more or less than you used to? Both under- and over-nutrition—that is, eating too little or too much—are increasingly common for older individuals. Malnutrition complicates other health issues, so it’s important to eat a high-fiber diet of about 1,600 calories a day that includes whole grains, fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, protein and PLENTY of fluids.
- O: Take more Omega-3 fatty acids
Found in fish (or supplements), omega-3 fatty acids can help control pains of aging such as inflammation, joint pain and skin conditions.
- P: Prevention
The more prone we are to illness, to further a little prevention goes in keeping us healthy. Take advantage of preventative medicine, such as the flu shot, and screenings and tests for common illnesses or illnesses you’re at risk for.
- Q: Quit smoking
If you haven’t kicked the habit after however many years, you can still add years to your life. After just one day of quitting smoking, your risk of having a heart attack begins to decrease.
- R: Regular check-ups
Is a symptom a regular sign of growing older or something more? Catch small problems before they become big ones by seeing your clinician for regular checkups.
- S: Shingles
Did you know that about half of all cases of shingles occur in individuals age 60 and older? Shingles, a painful, blistering rash, is caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox, so if you’ve had chicken pox (or the chicken pox vaccine) that virus could reappear as shingles. The best way to prevent shingles is to talk to your clinician about receiving the shingles vaccine.
- T: Take care of your teeth
Daily flossing and brushing with fluoride toothpaste after meals will go a long way in keeping your natural teeth. If you’ve started using dentures, be mindful of hot food or beverages, as your dentures aren’t sensitive to temperature like teeth are. Keep dentures clean, too, to avoid gum disease.
- U: Understanding long-term care
At some point, whether it’s due to injury or just growing older, you may need to consider long-term care. This could vary from help around the house to an assisted living home, and the best outcomes come when you discuss your potential needs and preferences with your family. Establish the kind of care you want before you need it!
- V: Volunteer to help others
If you’ve reached retirement, you may start wondering how to fill your days. Studies have shown that those who volunteer out of a desire to help others had lower mortality rates than people who did not volunteer at all, so call up your favorite non-profit and ask how you can help!
- W: Share your wisdom
We live in a culture that tends to fixate on youth, which can damage the self-esteem of older generations. Don’t forget that your knowledge and life experiences can benefit others. Improve your self-esteem and mental health by sharing your experiences and stories, whether through a mentorship program, starting a blog, or sitting down with young neighbors or grandchildren.
- X: ‘Xercise
You’ve likely put a lot of mileage on your bones and muscles over the years. As we age, our musculoskeletal systems are more prone to injury. Developing a routine of moderate exercise helps control body weight, lower blood pressure and helps strengthen your muscles, which in turn allows you to avoid injuries.
- Y: Young at heart
Mental health tip: remember that age is just a number! By making healthy life choices and taking care of your mind and body, you define the life in your years instead of allowing your years to define your life.
- Z: A zest for life
Studies show that optimistic adults can look forward to greater mobility and healthy aging compared to their pessimistic peers. So live your best life, no matter what your age! You’ll be happier and healthier for it.